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It's our duty to endorse candidates

July 14, 2002|by JOHN LEAGUE

The Herald-Mail, like most newspapers in Maryland, will endorse candidates for state and county elective offices this fall.

This is viewed by many newspaper editors as equal parts duty and public service.

And it is something that we don't take lightly.

We have been accused of being too liberal and too conservative. To be fair, I hear the former complaint more than the latter.

We have also been accused of favoring Democrats, and favoring Republicans. On that score, we have been equally kicked around over the years. Incumbents, regardless of party, usually have a bigger gripe with us. That's because we've been covering the office-holders and we've inevitably written something they haven't agreed with.

When we endorse, we try to separate the wheat from the chaff, and select the best candidate, regardless of party.

What are we looking for?

I look for someone who combines common sense with intelligence, and value the former slightly more than the latter.

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I favor individuals who've held leadership positions in business or community organizations, who've accepted some level of public responsibility and accountability. I need to believe the individual has the best interest of the people of Washington County at heart rather than that of a special interest.

I am also uncomfortable with single-issue candidates. Local decision-making requires some breadth of knowledge and depth of vision. I could care less whether a candidate is a Democrat, Republican or Independent.

Bob Maginnis, Tim Rowland and I meet before the election to try to reach a consensus. If you're a regular reader of the Herald-Mail, you know that Bob is editorial page editor. Tim is a columnist who writes frequently about politics and local affairs.

Before we meet, we review Herald-Mail stories on the campaigns. What positions have the candidates taken, and why? How articulate are they?

We review campaign literature. We may ask reporters to summarize the candidates and campaigns. If candidates have written letters to the editor or op-ed pieces, we'll review them.

Bob and Tim have met or know most of the candidates. They bring that insight to the meeting. We are in agreement 80 percent of the time. If we can't reach a consensus after debating the pros and cons, we don't endorse.

After the meeting, Bob and Tim will write the endorsements.

What affect does a newspaper endorsement have, ours or anyone else's? I don't know.

My common sense tells me that if it's a close election, a newspaper endorsement may help the endorsed candidate. But that's just a guess. Conversely, if a candidate is going to be crushed, we could endorse till the cows come home, and it won't make much difference.

Several years ago, I discussed the idea of discontinuing endorsements. By training, I'm a newspaper editor, not an opinion-page writer. I have always been comfortable gathering information and presenting it to readers. Attempt to tell all sides of the story. Let the reader form his or her own opinion.

Conversely, I've never been comfortable passing public judgment on issues and individuals, which is the job of the opinion writer. In the case of endorsements, that's something each voter can do better than I.

When I broached the idea of discontinuing endorsements to some folks in the community, most thought it was stupid idea. One friend called it "cowardly." A few were aghast that I would consider such a thing. I was quite surprised by the response.

The sentiment was generally the same: I don't always agree with the newspaper's endorsements, but I want to know what the newspaper thinks.

It's in that spirit that we endorse candidates.

So come September, we'll again let you know what we think.

John League is editor and publisher of The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, extension 7073 or by e-mail at jleague@herald-mail.com.

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